It was 2011 when Michael Sanguinetti paid what he believed to be a routine visit to York University’s Osgood Hall Law School in Toronto to talk about safety.
“You know, I think we’re beating around the bush here,” he mused to only ten students on that fateful day. “I’ve been told I’m not supposed to say this – however, women should avoid dressing like sluts in order to not be victimized.”
Fact: it is not solely a woman’s responsibility to avoid rape and evade sexual assault. No possible clothing choice is an invitation to be violated and traumatized.
Out of Sanguinetti’s insensitive and woman-blaming comments was born the SlutWalk, a now international campaign to raise awareness on the notion of victim-blaming and slut-shaming around sexual assault. It even saw a few successful Philadelphia chapter walks. But the name of the march proved problematic, and several South Philadelphians are involved in a new and improved version called the March to End Rape Culture that will take place on September 27.
“You could be in shorts and a tank top or sweatpants and a sweatshirt,” Preeti Pathak, a spokeswoman for PAVE Philly (Promoting Awareness, Victim Empowerment), said. “I think it’s great we’re changing the name – it makes people more comfortable and welcome. It wasn’t a name of something that would speak to people of all colors.”
Pathak’s a recent West Philly transplant who just left a home on the 1400 block of South Bancroft Street, and she represents one of nearly a dozen organizations that have volunteered to participate in the March later this month. Christie Eastburn, who, for purposes of identity-obscuring, calls East Passyunk Crossing home, is responsible for a great deal of planning for the March, coordinating speakers, chanters, space permits and police assistance.
“I don’t think I’ve ever been a part of an event that has so many components,” she humbly admitted at New Wave Café, 784 S. Third St., this week. “Slowly but surely, it’s all coming together.”
To be purposefully vague, Eastburn works in counseling and supports an organization that’s also inherently South Philadelphian – Pussy Divison.
Pussy Division is a lively activist presence in South Philly that can be seen with spray-painted stencils of phrases circled and crossed out on sidewalks (“Hey Sexy,” “Sup Baby,” “Smile Honey” and “Nice Ass” among them), red stickers with white “RAPE” lettering slapped onto stop signs, or “Dear Survivor” wheatpastes that read “Dear Survivor, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. We hear you, we are listening. Love, PD.”
As of press, the March is set to commence at 11 a.m. on September 27 at Thomas Payne Park at 16th and John F. Kennedy Boulevard (across the street from LOVE Park), where it will traverse through the gayborhood and then back up Broad Street and around City Hall. When the March returns to its origins, there will be speakers and tables for attendees to connect to the 11 participating advocacy organizations.
“I want to start with ‘What is rape culture?’ Some of the things we stress is bystander intervention,” Pathak said of what she plans to say when she speaks. There are “steps that everyday people can take” and “one of the places to start is everyday conversation. It takes a simple ‘Hey dude, that’s not cool.’”
Men are welcome and encouraged to attend and participate, as one of the things the March posits is that ending rape culture is not only a woman’s task.
Pathak added: “What really needs to happen is that feminist men and women need to come out and talk about feminism as a wonderful, powerful thing and all it means is that men and women should be treated equally.”
“There are many different aspects of society that contribute to rape culture, including victim blaming, rape jokes, transphobia, slut shaming, keeping survivors in silence, racism, the use of bodies as sexual objects, the sexualization of violence, lack of education around consent, intimate partner violence, homophobia, sexist media messages, the list is never ending,” the event’s Facebook page proclaims.
Samantha Jo is a trans woman from New Jersey who relocated to Philadelphia to coordinate the Trans-Health Conference, a project from the Mazzoni Center that is “the largest trans health conference in the world,” she said. She’ll be speaking at the park on the 27th about trans violence and a handful of other issues important to her.
“I think a lot of people don’t realize how many people are sexually assaulted or have trauma around sexual encounters that is being ignored,” Jo said. “A lot of them are sexually assaulted and victimized and revictimized. I think it all ties together, and I plan to bring some truth and light to their experiences.”
One of the strongest themes of both the SlutWalk and the March to End Rape Culture is that rape culture is neither a female problem nor simply about physical assault.
“Let’s talk about being raped mentally. Someone’s attacking your sexuality or making you feel less than, especially when it’s around genitalia. It’s victimizing,” Jo plainly stated.
One of the trickier but essential tools for eradicating rape culture must fall on men to be proactive allies.
“Hey, what happened – did she say ‘no’ and you kept going?” is one that Jo suggests as a starting point among male friends.
“If you’re at a party and you see someone who looks quite intoxicated, help that person, assess what’s going on, get them home if that needs to happen,” Pathak suggested.
“What they need to do is when they’re hanging out with a group of other men and they say something sexist or make a joke about rape, to call those things out and to not be scared,” she added.
With the parade still in its planning and preparing stages, there is still ample opportunity for folks to get involved, male and female. A planning meeting happens 8 p.m. tonight in the Community Room of the William Way Community Center, 1315 Spruce St.
And if you plan on attending, you can start practicing your chants now. “2, 4, 6, 8, my clothes are no excuse for rape!” and “However we dress, wherever we go, ‘yes’ means ‘yes’ and ‘no’ means ‘no’! Shatter the silence! Stop the violence!” among them.
Staff Writer Bill Chenevert at email@example.com or ext. 117.